In the first part of this four-part exclusive travelogue, avid traveller Shireen Bharucha takes us along on her quest to unravel the mysteries of Sariska. Read more to know about her tryst with the jungle town of Sariska.
The four hour, 200 km drive from Delhi to Sariska in the Alwar District of Rajasthan is pleasant as we whiz past a patchwork of golden, green and brown fields. After passing Alwar city, the scenery changes to semi forest. As we head towards Tiger Heaven, a five acre Sterling holiday resort situated on the western slopes of the Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary, we see langurs, rhesus monkeys, wild boar, nilgais and peafowl.
My husband and I are being hosted by Sterling, for two days at Tiger Heaven. Mr. Somnath Sarkar, the manager, is busy, so Mr. Pappu ushers us to our luxury room on the first floor, which he calls a studio room. The air conditioned room is spacious and comfortable. Tiger paw marks adorn the furniture, while the upholstery fabric is patterned in tiger stripes. Our private balcony in front overlooks the swimming pool set amidst lush lawns and a stone cottage with its terracotta roof, while at the back a common balcony overlooks a farm and acres of golden fields.
Later Mr. Sarkar comes to greet us warmly. We draw up our itinerary for the next day and then proceed to the multi cuisine restaurant, Machan. Petromax lanterns hang from the ceiling, along with normal lighting, giving the place a rustic look. Photographs of tigers sighted in Sariska adorn the walls. The stately wooden chairs are upholstered in tiger striped fabric. The many large windows let in natural light. The restaurant can seat 40 people at a time. The food is excellent and the ever smiling F&B Manager, Mr. Jagdish Kumar, ensures the guests are well fed. On the floor above the restaurant is the conference room.
At night too there is an aura of gaiety. We check out the tent shaped activity room where people joyfully dance to music. Other guests relax on deck chairs around the pool and play board games sitting on the lawn, under a brilliant star spangled sky.
As we stroll around the place we find that besides the studio rooms and the stone cottages, new accommodation has been added behind the activity room. These are tent cottages with the interiors tastefully and aesthetically designed.
Early next morning, accompanied by Mr. Sarkar and Mr. Babu, the naturalist (guide), a 45 minute drive in a gypsy takes us to the gate of the wildlife sanctuary. Spread over 800 sq km, it was the hunting preserve of the Alwar royals. The reserve was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1955. Since then hunting has been banned in the region. In 1978 it was given the status of a tiger reserve making it part of India’s Project Tiger and was declared a national park in 1979. Sometime between July and November 2004, all the tigers had been poached – not a single tiger remained. In 2008 an ambitious and successful project of tiger relocation was undertaken when some tigers from Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park were reintroduced into Sariska. Today the park boasts of 13 tigers – two male, seven female and four cubs.
Nestling in the Aravalli range, which literally means a ‘line of peaks’, the landscape of Sariska includes craggy cliffs, hills, numerous valleys, natural caves and undulating plateaus.
The dry deciduous scrub jungles are rich in trees such as Dhok (Buttonhole tree) which is the dominant species, the leaves of which provide fodder for the herbivores during the summer. Salar (Boswelliaserrata) produces Indian frankincense. Karyn (Sterculiaurens) – the gum of which is used in cosmetics, food and in pharmaceuticals as a laxative. Gol (Indian ash tree), the bark of which is used for the manufacture of astringent. These are just a few of the useful trees that the forest supports. Thorn and bamboo thickets are also part of the forest. Little wonder then that the forest is home to a diversity of birds and animals.
In the second part of this series, read about Shireen Bharucha’s adventures and discoveries in the heart of the forest. Read about her visit to the sanctuary by clicking here.
The views expressed by the author are in her personal capacity.